you get it wrong
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The
more commercial television news you watch, the more
wrong you are likely to be about key elements of the
Iraq War and its aftermath, according to a major new
study released in Washington on Thursday.
the more you watch the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News
channel, in particular, the more likely it is that your
perceptions about the war are wrong, adds the report by
the University of Maryland's Program on International
Policy Attitudes (PIPA).
Based on several
nationwide surveys it conducted with California-based
Knowledge Networks since June, as well as the results of
other polls, PIPA found that 48 percent of the public
believe US troops found evidence of close pre-war links
between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist group; 22
percent thought troops found weapons of mass destruction
(WMD) in Iraq; and 25 percent believed that world public
opinion favored Washington's going to war with Iraq. All
three are misperceptions.
Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War, also found
that the more misperceptions held by the respondent, the
more likely it was that s/he both supported the war and
depended on commercial television for news about it.
The study is likely to stoke a growing public
and professional debate over why mainstream news media -
especially the broadcast media - were not more skeptical
about the Bush administration's pre-war claims,
particularly regarding Saddam Hussein's WMD stockpiles
and ties with al-Qaeda.
"This is a dangerously
revealing study," said Marvin Kalb, a former television
correspondent and a senior fellow of the Shorenstein
Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the
Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
While Kalb said he had some reservations about
the specificity of the questions directed at the
respondents, he noted that, "People who have had a
strong belief that there is an unholy alliance between
politics and the press now have more evidence." Fox, in
particular, has been accused of pursuing a chauvinistic
agenda in its news coverage despite its motto, "We
report, you decide".
Overall, according to PIPA,
60 percent of the people surveyed held at least one of
the three misperceptions through September. Thirty
percent of respondents had none of those misperceptions.
Surprisingly, the percentage of people holding
the misperceptions rose slightly over the last three
months. In July, for example, polls found that 45
percent of the public believed US forces had found
"clear evidence in Iraq that Hussein was working closely
with al-Qaeda". In September, 49 percent believed that.
Likewise, those who believed troops had found
WMD in Iraq jumped from 21 percent in July to 24 percent
in September. One in five respondents said they believed
that Iraq had actually used chemical or biological
weapons during the war.
In determining what
factors could create the misperceptions, PIPA considered
a number of variables in the data.
It found a
high correlation between respondents with the most
misperceptions and their support for the decision to go
to war. Only 23 percent of those who held none of the
three misperceptions supported the war, while 53 percent
who held one misperception did so. Of those who believe
that both WMDs and evidence of al-Qaeda ties have been
found in Iraq and that world opinion backed the United
States, a whopping 86 percent said they supported war.
More specifically, among those who believed that
Washington had found clear evidence of close ties
between Hussein and al-Qaeda, two-thirds held the view
that going to war was the best thing to do. Only 29
percent felt that way among those who did not believe
that such evidence had been found.
factor that correlated closely with misperceptions about
the war was party affiliation, with Republicans
substantially "more likely" to hold misperceptions than
Democrats. But support for Bush himself as expressed by
whether or not the respondent said s/he intended to vote
for him in 2004 appeared to be an even more critical
The average frequency of misperceptions
among respondents who planned to vote for Bush was 45
percent, while among those who plan to vote for a
hypothetical Democrat candidate, the frequency averaged
only 17 percent.
Asked "Has the US found clear
evidence Saddam Hussein was working closely with
al-Qaeda"? 68 percent of Bush supporters replied
affirmatively. By contrast, two of every three
Democrat-backers said no.
But news sources also
accounted for major differences in misperceptions,
according to PIPA, which asked more than 3,300
respondents since May where they "tended to get most of
[their] news''. Eighty percent identified broadcast
media, while 19 percent cited print media.
those who said broadcast media, 30 percent said two or
more networks; 18 percent, Fox News; 16 percent, CNN; 24
percent, the three big networks - NBC (14 percent), ABC
(11 percent), CBS (9 percent); and three percent, the
two public networks, National Public Radio (NPR) and
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
For each of
the three misperceptions, the study found enormous
differences between the viewers of Fox, who held the
most misperceptions, and NPR/PBS, who held the fewest by
Eighty percent of Fox viewers were found to
hold at least one misperception, compared to 23 percent
of NPR/PBS consumers. All the other media fell in
CBS ranked right behind Fox with a 71
percent score, while CNN and NBC tied as the
best-performing commercial broadcast audience at 55
percent. Forty-seven percent of print media readers held
at least one misperception.
As to the number of
misconceptions held by their audiences, Fox far
outscored all of its rivals. A whopping 45 percent of
its viewers believed all three misperceptions, while the
other commercial networks scored between 12 percent and
16 percent. Only nine percent of readers believed all
three, while only four percent of the NPR/PBS audience
PIPA found that political affiliation and
news source also compound one another. Thus, 78 percent
of Bush supporters who watch Fox News said they thought
the United States had found evidence of a direct link to
al-Qaeda, while 50 percent of Bush supporters who rely
on NPR/PBS thought so.
Conversely, 48 percent of
Fox viewers who said they would support a Democrat
believed that such evidence had been found. But none of
the Democrat-backers who relied on NPR/PBS believed it.
The study also debunked the notion that
misperceptions were due mainly to the lack of exposure
Among Bush supporters, those who said
they follow the news "very closely", were found more
likely to hold misperceptions. Those Bush supporters, on
the other hand, who say they follow the news "somewhat
closely" or "not closely at all" held fewer
Conversely, those Democratic
supporters who said they did not follow the news very
closely were found to be twice as likely to hold
misperceptions as those who said they did, according to
(Inter Press Service)